How to Win Over Stubborn Gatekeepers

By Jeff Beals

A few years ago, I wrote a book that required me to conduct interviews with several professionals who had attained celebrity status.  In many cases, I had to work with secretaries and administrative assistants in order to get the interviews. These “gatekeepers” played a huge role in determining whether their high-profile bosses would or would not meet with me.

While people normally think of gatekeepers as problematic obstructionists, on a couple of occasions, I landed an interview only because of the gatekeepers.  I befriended the gatekeepers in both of those cases and turned them into my advocates.  They became my champions. One of those gatekeepers believed so much in what I was trying to accomplish with the book, that she pretty much forced her boss to do the interview with me. The other lobbied her boss on my behalf until he agreed.

Trying to land interviews with famous people is in many ways similar to the sales prospecting that you and I do every day.  If you sell to decision makers at large companies or the owners of small companies, you may very well come face-to-face with a gatekeeper.  Here are four things you can do to win over gatekeepers and turn them into advocates:

Respect

Treat them with respect. I’m not talking about the patronizing, artificial respect that too many companies show their admin assistants (like telling admins they are the “most important resource in the company” or giving them cheesy titles like “director of first impressions”). I’m talking about real respect, the respect that exists when you see someone as a partner or an equal.

When you reach a gatekeeper, explain what you’re trying to accomplish and why you are calling. Tell them the same things you say to their bosses. See the gatekeeper as a key part of your selling process. That simple show of respect will put you in the most likeable one percent of vendors who call the gatekeeper.  Compared to the vast majority of sales reps who treat gatekeepers as unworthy, lower-class obstacles, you’ll come across as positively different.

Partner Role

Remember to think of gatekeepers as partners in the process – partners to you and their bosses. Many decision makers are so close to their support person that they almost become one person. They can finish each other’s sentences. If the boss sees the gatekeeper as a partner, you should too.

Questions

One of the best things you can do to turn gatekeepers into champions is to ask questions. People like it when other people show genuine, sincere interest in them and their organizations. Asking questions gets the gatekeeper involved in your efforts and the answers they provide help you understand more about the decision maker to whom you will ultimately make your pitch.  What’s another benefit of asking questions? The gatekeeper may realize that they don’t have the answers you need and may just let you talk to the big shot.

Persistence

These days it often takes multiple calls to reach prospecting targets. It might also take several conversations to build a high level of trust with a gatekeeper. Even if the gatekeeper likes you, it still may require several callbacks to the keep the process moving. Remember that gatekeepers and their bosses are extremely busy and often downright overwhelmed. That makes you forgettable if you don’t stay front and center.

Jeff Beals shows you how to find better prospects, close more deals and capture greater market share.  Jeff is an international award-winning author, sought-after keynote speaker, and accomplished sales consultant. A frequent media guest, Jeff has been featured in Investor’s Business Daily, USA Today, Men’s Health, Chicago Tribune and The New York Times.”

Here’s Why Should You Choose Jeff Beals as Your Next Speaker:

“Jeff Beals has presented four different topics at five of our internal events in 2016. At each event, the audience of commercial real estate principals and agents was completely engaged and motivated the entire time. Jeff facilitates his training sessions in such a way that each member of the audience was able to relate and understand how to apply it every day in the field. Jeff is brilliant, and we have hired him to continue speaking at our events in 2017!” – Lindsay Fierro, Senior Vice President, NAI Global, New York, NY

“Your workshop was a huge experience for our attendees by giving them the opportunity to improve their work in the critical environment in which we are living today. Your talent as a speaker and your qualities as a person made the difference during your time with us. I would certainly recommend you to anyone who asks.” – Ana Paula Costa, Educational Planner, Febracorp, Sao Paulo, Brazil

I’m in Phoenix and had breakfast earlier this morning with our semi-retired sales representative who is doing some continued work for us here.  He attended your sales meeting last week and told me that in 43 years of selling, you were the best he had ever heard.  Thanks for a great experience.” – Drew Vogel, President & CEO, Diamond Vogel Paints, Orange City, IA

“Our corporate partnership team had great takeaways regarding how to network smarter while also understanding the importance of our personal brand to current and prospective partners. Jeff does a great job weaving in real-world examples and how you can apply his teachings to growing your business and building long-term partnerships.” – Jason Booker, Senior Director of Corporate Sponsorships, The Kansas City Royals Major League Baseball Team

+1-402-637-9300

info@jeffbeals.com

Sales Detective Work: Who’s the Real Decision Maker?

By Jeff Beals

Sales professionals searching for insight into prospective clients would be wise to think of themselves as detectives.  The more research you do on a client the faster you speed up the sales cycle and the more likely you are to increase transaction size.

As you do your detective work, it eventually becomes clear who the real decision maker is and who the primary and secondary influencers are.

More than anything, it is important to determine the true decision maker, the person who has veto power and whose signature seals the deal. But almost important is determining who the key influencers are.

No matter how independent and self-confident a decision-maker may be, that person usually has valued and trusted advisers whispering in his or her ear.  We need to know who those influencers are and get to them as early in the process as possible.

Some sales detectives prefer the direct approach and ask questions such as:

“Who is the most influential person helping you make this decision?”

“Whose advice and counsel will be most valuable to you as you make your decision?”

Other sales pros are more subtle, but once you identify the key influencers, you need to build a trusting relationship with them too.

Sometimes a prospect will be vague and non-committal when asked to name influencers. A mid-level person might not want to give up control or admit that he or she lacks decision-making power. Such a person could also be protecting c-suite executives from interruptions.

Some prospects worry that disclosing influencer names will cause the sales process to grow deeper before they are ready.  When you’re having trouble drawing information out of a prospect, be patiently persistent.  Keep asking, digging and researching.  You can also look at precedent…What kind of influencers did similar prospects in the past have?

A word of warning: be careful of false influencers.  There are those people who get some sort of psychological payoff pretending to have influence over the buying process.  Do your homework. Don’t jump to conclusions until you have performed thorough due diligence on the prospective client.  A little extra work will increase your closing ratio!

Jeff Beals shows you how to find better prospects, close more deals and capture greater market share.  Jeff is an international award-winning author, sought-after keynote speaker, and accomplished sales consultant. A frequent media guest, Jeff has been featured in Investor’s Business Daily, USA Today, Men’s Health, Chicago Tribune and The New York Times.”

Here’s Why Should You Choose Jeff Beals as Your Next Speaker:

“Jeff Beals has presented four different topics at five of our internal events in 2016. At each event, the audience of commercial real estate principals and agents was completely engaged and motivated the entire time. Jeff facilitates his training sessions in such a way that each member of the audience was able to relate and understand how to apply it every day in the field. Jeff is brilliant, and we have hired him to continue speaking at our events in 2017!” – Lindsay Fierro, Senior Vice President, NAI Global, New York, NY

“Your workshop was a huge experience for our attendees by giving them the opportunity to improve their work in the critical environment in which we are living today. Your talent as a speaker and your qualities as a person made the difference during your time with us. I would certainly recommend you to anyone who asks.” – Ana Paula Costa, Educational Planner, Febracorp, Sao Paulo, Brazil

I’m in Phoenix and had breakfast earlier this morning with our semi-retired sales representative who is doing some continued work for us here.  He attended your sales meeting last week and told me that in 43 years of selling, you were the best he had ever heard.  Thanks for a great experience.” – Drew Vogel, President & CEO, Diamond Vogel Paints, Orange City, IA

“Our corporate partnership team had great takeaways regarding how to network smarter while also understanding the importance of our personal brand to current and prospective partners. Jeff does a great job weaving in real-world examples and how you can apply his teachings to growing your business and building long-term partnerships.” – Jason Booker, Senior Director of Corporate Sponsorships, The Kansas City Royals Major League Baseball Team

+1-402-637-9300

info@jeffbeals.com

Replying to RFPs Is a Waste of Time (Most of the Time)

By Jeff Beals

When I was in high school (circa 1986), I auditioned for a couple of Hollywood movies.  One of the movies was being filmed here in my hometown while the other one held auditions here in addition to several other cities. I tried out just for fun, and knowing the long odds, I never expected to be chosen.  Though I wasn’t offered a part in either film, the experiences were eye opening for a 17-year-old kid.

The first audition was a positive experience. It was a comedy film written for a teenage audience. I tried out for the lead role, which was fittingly enough, a nerdy high school kid who was forced to fight an intimidating bully who had just transferred in from another school. I had an appointed time to show up and spent about 30 minutes with the casting director and his entourage. I read several scenes and then answered interview questions. I felt like I was actually being considered for the part.

The second audition was a “cattle call,” in which several hundred would-be movie stars showed up at a local hotel ballroom. After waiting a couple hours, I was brought into a separate room with a group of six other guys. They lined us up, looked at each of us in comparison to one another and then told half of us to go home. I was one of the guys told to leave.  That was it.  I waited for hours only to be sent packing having never said a word.

Do you want to know why I received so much more attention in the first audition than the second?  I was actually recommended for the first movie by a local talent agency that had been hired by the movie producers.  At the second audition, I was just one of 250 nameless, faceless unknowns.

Why do I tell you this story?

Because it reminds me of the Request-for-Proposal (RFP) process in the world of sales.  As a general rule, I hate RFPs and I only respond to them under rare circumstances.

I hate RFPs, because they are just like that cattle-call movie audition. Think about it this way:

  • A company decides it needs a new vendor, so several employees sit down and think of all the things they do and don’t want and then dream up a bunch of hoops for would-be vendors to jump through.
  • They send the RFP to every potential vendor they can think of.
  • Prospective vendors practically do backflips trying to meet all the RFP requirements and end up rushing to meet the deadline.
  • The company that issued the RFP then examines all the proposals that were submitted and compares them.  Ultimately, they decide that some of the proposals are basically offering the same products/services, so they choose the lowest-priced bid.
  • And it can get even worse.  The finalists are sometimes pitted against each other in a bidding war to see who is willing to discount their price to the lowest number. It’s a race to the bottom.
  • The “winner” ends up doing a lot of work for too little money.

This is not a recipe for high profitability.

Generally speaking, I recommend you respond to RFPs only when your relationship with the client is so strong that you are essentially guaranteed of winning.  Some companies have policies requiring that vendor relationships go out to bid periodically. If this is the case at one of your best client companies, tell them you will help write the RFP.  You can then write the RFP to favor you and the way you do business.

If you don’t write the RFP or at least have heavy influence on the RFP, it very well could be an expensive waste of your time replying to the RFP.  An exception would be when the RFP is a mere formality designed to make shareholders feel better and you are the pre-chosen winner.

Now, I realize that there are some industries where RFPs are a rooted part of the culture. In other words, they’re so common that there’s no getting around them.  That’s not the case in most industries.  When at all possible, avoid RFPs.  Just like the cattle-call audition, you have little chance of winning.  Meanwhile, you spend tons of time and money preparing a proposal and get no revenue in return. If by some miracle, you are chosen, you’re probably going to get skewered on price.

Just say “no” to RFPs!

By the way, that movie for which I was actually considered turned out to be a box-office flop, earning only $1.5 million during its opening weekend. But it did play on cable television for many years.  To this day, I’ve never watched the entire show but have seen bits and pieces of it.  I’ll never forget the first time I stumbled upon it. I was flipping through television channels and landed on something that looked mildly interesting.  As I started watching the show, it felt so familiar. Then I realized that I was watching the very scene I read during that audition.  It was fun to think what could have been…

The Agenda: Part II of “How Can You Get People to Show Up for Your Sales Meetings?”

By Jeff Beals

Why do so many salespeople avoid sales meetings?  Why do some reps consider sales meetings to be just one step above pain, suffering and disease?  Part of the problem might be the structure of your meetings.

Too many sales meetings meander haphazardly from one topic to another without much purpose. Too many sales leaders wing it, showing up without a thoughtful agenda, and even worse, no real justification for holding the meeting.

During such meetings, attendees are generally disengaged until someone brings up a controversial subject. Only then, as the meeting becomes a gripe-fest, do people perk up and pay attention.

Never hold a sales meeting just for the sake of holding a meeting.  If the meeting doesn’t improve skills, encourage communication and foster trust, you’re wasting everybody’s time.

Last week, I wrote about some ways you could entice people to show up for your sales meetings. This week, I’m going to talk about the essential components of a meeting agenda.  You don’t have time for all of these agenda items at each meeting, so pick and choose which ones are best for you at any given time:

Celebrations of Success – In this part of the meeting, highlight the major sales that have been closed in the past week.  Discussing these completed deals boosts morale and also provides an opportunity for other sales reps to learn from the experience.

Pending Deals – Highlight transactions that are in the queue but not yet closed.  This will give everyone an idea of what business/revenue is on its way. Be careful about this section, however, as some sales reps are superstitious and don’t like to count their chickens before they hatch.

Announcements – Every sales meeting should have a “housekeeping” section in which you inform attendees about important details and events in the company.  Communication (or lack thereof) is a major complaint of salespeople and a big cause of their discontent.  While this agenda item is quite important, only spend the minimum amount of time necessary on it during the meeting. I’ve seen way too many sales meetings get sidetracked by unnecessary discussion related to simple announcements.  Read the announcements quickly then move on! Send an announcement summary email immediately following the meeting in which you reiterate the important announcement details.

Rumors in the Marketplace – Open the floor for attendees to share what they’ve heard about competitors, potential clients and about macro issues that could have an impact on your company.  Your sales force is out and about in the field every day, so they are collectively a tremendous source of intel.

Sales Training – No matter how long you’ve been in the sales game, you can always get better.  You probably won’t have time to do this at every meeting, but periodically bring in an expert speaker to help your team improve its prospecting, qualifying and closing skills.

Lessons of the Week – Here is a chance for one or more of your sales reps to share their experiences. Use it as a way to educate the entire group about the pitfalls and barriers sales reps encountered and how they either successfully overcame them or failed because of them.  This type of learning is immeasurably valuable and ultimately develops a set of best practices for your company’s sales department.

Internal Guest Speakers – Invite a key person from one your company’s operating units. Have him or her provide updates on important products or services.  It is obviously important that sales reps are up on all the important aspects of what they sell.

Marketing Demonstrations – Regularly invite representatives from the marketing department to go over new campaigns. Ask the marketing rep to show new ads, videos, mailings, social media posts, websites, etc.  Life is easier when salespeople and marketing employees work hand in glove.

Group Counseling – One way to get sales reps to bond with each other is to have them help each other out.  During this segment of the meeting, ask a rep to bring up a problem he or she is having with a difficult client or prospect. Invite the rest of the group to give input, ideas and advice. This can be immensely beneficial for the person with the client issue and educational for everyone else. Perhaps most importantly, it brings the sales reps together as a team.

Discussion Time – Some sales leaders ask their reps to read an article before the meeting and then have the group discuss it. It could be an industry-related article or a sales-and-marketing article.  If you do this, choose an article that is short, reads easily and has valuable content. An article that provides a new way of looking at a common problem tends to be received the most enthusiastically.

Jeff Beals shows you how to find better prospects, close more deals and capture greater market share.  Jeff is an international award-winning author, sought-after keynote speaker, and accomplished sales consultant. A frequent media guest, Jeff has been featured in Investor’s Business Daily, USA Today, Men’s Health, Chicago Tribune and The New York Times.”

Here’s Why Should You Choose Jeff Beals as Your Next Speaker:

“Jeff Beals has presented four different topics at five of our internal events in 2016. At each event, the audience of commercial real estate principals and agents was completely engaged and motivated the entire time. Jeff facilitates his training sessions in such a way that each member of the audience was able to relate and understand how to apply it every day in the field. Jeff is brilliant, and we have hired him to continue speaking at our events in 2017!” – Lindsay Fierro, Senior Vice President, NAI Global, New York, NY

“Your workshop was a huge experience for our attendees by giving them the opportunity to improve their work in the critical environment in which we are living today. Your talent as a speaker and your qualities as a person made the difference during your time with us. I would certainly recommend you to anyone who asks.” – Ana Paula Costa, Educational Planner, Febracorp, Sao Paulo, Brazil

I’m in Phoenix and had breakfast earlier this morning with our semi-retired sales representative who is doing some continued work for us here.  He attended your sales meeting last week and told me that in 43 years of selling, you were the best he had ever heard.  Thanks for a great experience.” – Drew Vogel, President & CEO, Diamond Vogel Paints, Orange City, IA

“Our corporate partnership team had great takeaways regarding how to network smarter while also understanding the importance of our personal brand to current and prospective partners. Jeff does a great job weaving in real-world examples and how you can apply his teachings to growing your business and building long-term partnerships.” – Jason Booker, Senior Director of Corporate Sponsorships, The Kansas City Royals Major League Baseball Team

+1-402-637-9300

info@jeffbeals.com